my proxy bathes in the cold water... sparrow -Kobayashi Issa
Issa’s haiku is the perfect way to start our exploration into the mini season of Major Cold. This season is the last mini season of the 72 Season calendar and runs from January 21 – February 03. The micro-seasons contained within this mini season are:
- The Giant Butterbur Flowers (Jan. 21 – Jan.24)
- The Mountain Stream Freezes Over (Jan 25 – Jan 29)
- The Chicken Lays Her First Eggs (Jan 30 – Feb 03)
The micro-seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai. Each micro-season lasts about five days and each one highlights a slight change in the natural environment. The micro-seasons are specific to the climate of Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean that it isn’t applicable to others. They can become a starting point for a personal exploration into the world around you.
As the season’s name suggests, we are in the coldest time of the year.
In Vermont, January’s average overnight low temperature of 9.3 degrees Fahrenheit. February, which is the second coldest month, has an average overnight temperature of 10.9 degrees Fahrenheit. For many people this cold weather forces them to stay inside and refrain from any outdoor activities. However, some people they take this as a challenge to engage in winter training.
Kangeiko, which translates to winter training, is a traditional martial arts practice. This type of training occurs early in the morning during the winter and is used to build mental toughness. The theory behind Kangeiko is that by training in the harsh cold you will strengthen your fighting spirit and be able to work through any inner weaknesses that keep you from performing at your best.
The practice of kangeiko, although associated with martial arts, finds its roots in the spiritual practices of Shugendo (a Japanese specific religion that blends Shinto and Buddhist practices) and some sects of Buddhism. Primarily practiced by mountain ascetics, monks would either bathe in cold river water or stand under cold waterfalls. This cold water bathing practice is known as kanshugyo, or kangyo. Kanshugyo is said to be a demonstration of piety and a way to hone mental abilities.(1,2)
Cold Water Therapy
The kanshugyo practice was originally practiced as a way to strengthen the mind. However, it has some physical benefits that are being tested by athletes and health researchers.
Scientists are currently studying the benefits of cold water therapy, which is the practice of using water below 59 degrees Fahrenheit to treat health conditions and stimulate the immune system. Some of the claims about cold water therapy still need more research, but 10 benefits have been scientifically verified.(3)
Cold Water Therapy has been shown to:
- Boost the immune system
- Improve circulation
- Deepen sleep
- Boost energy levels
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve metabolic function
- Improve mood.
Wim Hof, the creator of the Wim Hof Method, uses cold water therapy as one of his three pillars of practice toward better health and realization of an individual’s full potential. The other pillars of his method include breath work and a commitment to the practice. Wim Hof’s training method has been clinically studied, and practitioners of his method have been shown to be able to control their sympathetic nervous system and activate regions in the brain responsible for pain suppression.(4) Wim Hof is committed to sharing this benefits of his practice, and you can read the results of the scientific studies on his website.
Haiku about Cold Water
Haikus about cold water rituals proved challenging to locate. However, I was able to find four poems that reflected on water in the winter. I was also able to contributed one of my own to this list.
waterfall in winter - no sunrise, no sunset for this massive rock -Nozawa Setsuko
In the wild winter wind the voice of the water cracks falling across the rocks -Yosa Buson
Cold wintry wind — Breaking over rocks The voice of water. -Yosa Buson
diving in icicles on the nose soothing the soul -Mark S
- Kangeiko: Japanese-wiki-corpus.org
- Kangeiko: Taidoblog.com
- Cold Water Therapy: Healthline.com
- Wim Hof Method: Wim Hof.com
To learn more about Wim Hof and the potential benefits of environmental conditioning check out Scott Carney’s What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude, and Environmental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength.
Looking for something else to read? Naturalist Weekly also has several curated book lists of poetry, haiku, and books featured on our blog. We are an affiliate of Bookshop.org and may receive a small commission if you purchase a book from Bookshop.org.
Naturalist Weekly runs on coffee and a passion for writing, and your donation will keep the coffee pot full and the content flowing.